On Salesforce, Poodles and Callouts

This morning a friend asked for the low-down on Salesforce, SSLv3, Poodle and what a Callout was. She was the fourth such person to ask about this, and I decided a quick primer on internet communication might help. The following isn’t meant to be the most technically correct set of definitions, glossing over many details to provide a high-level, non-coder overview.

Computers on the internet communicate with each other using a set of protocols. You can think of a protocol as a sort of rigid dialect of a given language. In general, these protocols are described and written out as “TCP/IP” which stands in typical geek-un-original-naming-conventions: “Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol.” These protocols do the bulk of the work for sending data across the wires and through the tubes. They handle the mundane communication “conversations” that might look something like this:

Computer1: “Hey, You there, out in California. Sup?”

Computer2: “Hit me with some mad data yo.”

Computer1: “Ok, here’s this ultra-important tweet @codefriar wants to post”


Computer2: “Got it. Thanks yo. Tell @codefriar 201”

In the beginning was TCP/IP and other protocols you’ll recognize. Ever seen HTTP:// ? FTP:// ? These are data protocols that define how a web page, or a file’s data is transmitted. If you’ll permit me an analogy from Taco-hell, Internet communication is not unlike a 7 layer burrito. HTTP layered on top of TCP/IP etc. Even as TCP/IP + HTTP does the vast bulk of the work, as the internet has grew up, we consumers decided sending our credit cards to vendors unencrypted was a “bad idea”(tm). In response some wicked smart, and well meaning fellows at Netscape (remember them?) developed this thing called Secure Socket Layer, or SSL. SSL is an optional layer designed to sit between TCP/IP and HTTP. A long time ago (10 years ago, no kidding) SSL was replaced with TLS, or Transport Layer Security. SSL and it’s replacement TLS function by establishing a protocol-like communication between two computers that looks something like this:

Computer1: Hi, my user asked me to talk to you, but I don’t trust the internet; because internet. So if you don’t mind, tell me who you are, and tell me what encryption schemes you speak. I’m going to start our negotiations with TLS1.2.

Computer2: Uh, due to a network glitch, old hardware, old software, or just because I’m grouchy, I’m going to offer TLS1.0.

Computer1: Ugh, stupid computer, I guess TLS1.0 will work. Now lets create a one-time encryption key for this session that only you and I will know about.

Computer2: Sure, though I think your attitude towards my “enterprise” (ie: out of date) TLS version is quite rude. Here’s my Public key, and an one-time key. <key data>

Computer1: “enterprise my ass”, I’ll accept the key.


Computer1: kthxbai

Any further communication between the two computers is then encrypted with that session specific key. This is a “Good Thing”(tm).

The important part here is that the two computers negotiate which encryption scheme to use. As you can imagine, the computers try to negotiate the highest level of encryption they both support.

Here’s where the POODLEs come in. Some very smart, well meaning encryption gurus at Google found out that computers can be fooled into negotiating to a less-secure version of encryption and that the less-secure encryption used is, well, in a word useless. POODLE is the name the Google researchers gave their exploit. In their own words POODLE results in:

…there is no reasonable workaround. This leaves us with no secure SSL 3.0 cipher suites at all: to achieve secure encryption, SSL 3.0 must be avoided entirely.

(Emphasis mine).  Poodle is dangerous precisely because the encryption methods offered by SSLv3 are weak enough that a “bad person”(tm) could listen in to communications and steal information. (jerks.)

Now, lets put some legs on this set of concepts. If you want to buy something online, your computer is going to initiate that encryption-version-detection-dance. If you’re buying from a major vendor online, say one based in the lovely land of Washington, you’ll find that their computers will not accept SSL v3.0 because that would be insecure. This is good and wonderful thing.

On the other hand, lets say you’re a company that provides a Platform for software development. As part of that platform, you allow your developers to make “callouts” to other internet based services. First, what do I mean by callout? Simply put a callout is anytime the platform initiates communication with a non-platform server. In other words, anytime you ask the platform to “call” out to another computer. As you can imagine, these callouts are SSL enabled, meaning that whenever possible communication between the platform and the external computer are encrypted. Unfortunately, this also means if the computer that is called out to negotiates the encryption down to SSLv3, well, it’s effectively unencrypted. This is a “Bad Thing”.(tm)

Now, to be even more specific, this means that:

  • If your Salesforce org communicates with any-other internet connected computer because you’ve asked it to talk to your Sharepoint server. (note: Sharepoint is just an example and I cannot speak to the myriad of complex configuration mistakes that could exist and cause a Sharepoint service to degrade to SSLv3)
  • If that computer has SSLv3 enabled
  • If the Encryption scheme negotiation is, for whatever reason, forced to degrade to SSLV3

Then, your communication is effectively unencrypted. If an attacker were sufficiently motivated they can get at your data.

Here’s the nasty catch: If either side has disabled SSLv3, and the encryption negotiation cannot settle on a version of TLS, the entire call will fail, because not making the call is preferable to making a call that everyone can read… This means if your Sharepoint server’s admin has disabled SSLv3, but for whatever reason Salesforce cannot negotiate TLS1.2 with your Sharepoint server, the communication will stop, and the callout will fail because no suitable encryption scheme can be negotiated. This means updates to Sharepoint may start failing, for instance.

In a perfect world, all computers would be upgraded in such a way that prevented SSLv3 from being used. Importantly, if only one side of the communication prohibits SSLv3 and the two computers are able to negotiate a higher level of encryption this isn’t an issue. If you own the server(s) being called out to, you can work to ensure you properly accept TLS1.2.

Or you can wait until Salesforce stops allowing SSLv3 on their end… On 12/20/2014

Either way, SSLv3 should be disabled!